Chapter 22: Ciampolo of Navarre and Deceived Demons
Dante thought, I have seen military officers and battles and retreats. I have seen military scouts and raiding parties and tournaments. But I have never seen cavalry or infantry or ships being sent on a mission with such bugling as that of Malacoda!
Dante and Virgil, accompanied by the black devils, continued walking on the bank along the boiling pitch. In Hell, you have to expect to see devils.
As Dante walked, he kept an eye on the sinners in the boiling pitch to see what they did. Dolphins often swim in the sea, occasionally rising to the surface and exposing their backs. Likewise, the sinners often raised their backs out of the boiling pitch momentarily to ease their pain. But quickly, like the back of a dolphin, their backs disappeared into the boiling pitch again. The sinners did not want to be captured and tormented by the Malebranche.
The sinners often, like frogs, had part of their bodies out of the boiling pitch, but when Barbariccia appeared, quickly the sinners put their entire bodies into the boiling pitch.
But one sinner was slower than the others, and Graffiacane speared him and raised him out of the boiling pitch. Dripping, the sinner looked like an otter.
The black devils were happy to have a sinner to torment. They said, “Rubicante, slice the sinner’s skin off with your claws.”
Dante asked Virgil, “Can you find out the name of this poor sinner who is being tormented by the black devils?”
Virgil spoke to the sinner, who replied, “I come from Navarre. My father was a spendthrift who killed himself when he ran out of money to spend. I worked for King Thibault, but I became a grafter, and now you see that I am punished here.”
The punishment continued out of the boiling pitch. The two-tusked Ciriatto used one tusk to rip open the sinner’s skin. The sinner was like a mouse that is being tormented by cats.
But Barbariccia, whom Malacoda had put in charge of the other devils, said, “Don’t touch him — he’s mine!”
Then he told Virgil, “Soon this sinner will be torn to pieces, so if you have any questions for him, ask them now.”
Virgil asked the sinner, “Are any Italians in the boiling pitch with you?”
The sinner replied, “Yes, there are. Just before I was captured by these devils, I was beside an Italian — I wish that I were with him now! I would not be tormented with the hooks and claws of these devils!”
Another of the black devils, Libicocco, said, “Let’s start the torment!” He then used his pitchfork to tear off a piece of the sinner’s arm. Another black devil, Draghignazzo, tore off a piece of the sinner’s leg, but Barbariccia glared at the black devils, and they ceased their torture.
As the sinner looked over his new wounds, Virgil asked him, “Who was the Italian you were with before you were captured?”
The sinner replied, “Gomita, the friar from Gallura, who accepted bribes to let the enemies of his lord go free. He was no petty grafter, for his grafts were huge. He spends his time talking with Michele Zanche of Logodora — but look at how the black devils grind their teeth. I would tell you more, but I am afraid of the black devils and what they are going to do to me.”
Barbariccia glared at Farfarello, who was grinding his teeth, and shouted, “Stay away from the sinner!”
The sinner continued, “I can help you to talk to Tuscans and Lombards if you wish; however, for me to do that, the Malebranche must back away a little. Unless they do, the sinners in the boiling pitch won’t raise their backs out of the boiling pitch, and unless the sinners do that, they can’t be caught. I will help the Malebranche to capture seven Italian sinners so you can talk to them. All I have to do is whistle — that is how we signal each other that no Malebranche are around and so it is safe to raise our backs out of the boiling pitch.”
Cagnazzo disbelieved the sinner: “This is a trick. Once we back away from him, he will escape us by jumping back into the boiling pitch!”
The sinner, who had not forgotten the tricks he had used to commit fraud while he was alive, said, “I certainly know tricks — especially tricks that will get my friends in trouble!”
Alichin said, “I am willing to capture seven Italian sinners. And if you try to jump, my wings will enable me to get to you quickly. We Malebranche will back away and hide.”
The Malebranche did back away and hide, and the first black devil to do so was Cagnazzo, who had not believed and did not believe the sinner. Cagnazzo thought, This sinner is playing a trick on us. He is going to jump. If he succeeds in jumping, then the other devils and I will have an opportunity to pick a fight with Alichin, who will be responsible if this sinner gets away.
The sinner had a good sense of timing, and he jumped at exactly the best time. Alichin swooped at the sinner, trying to grab him before he hit the boiling pitch, but he failed, just as an eagle fails when he swoops at a duck, but the duck dives beneath the surface of the water.
Calcabrina took off after Alichin, hoping that the sinner would escape so that he would have an excuse to fight Alichin. As soon as the sinner dived beneath the boiling pitch, Calcabrina began to fight Alichin, who fought back, with the result that the two devils fell into the boiling pitch, befouling their wings with tar and rendering them useless for flying until they could be cleaned.
Barbariccia and four other devils set off to rescue Calcabrina and Alichin, who were being cooked in the boiling pitch. Barbariccia and the four other devils reached out with pitchforks to lift the two fallen devils from the pitch.
No fools, Dante and Virgil took the opportunity to sneak away from the black devils.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce
This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:
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